Finance Certifications to Boost Your Resume

ByJulija A.
January 31, 2022

Gaining a finance certification is very advantageous for people looking to pursue a career in finance. If you have ambitions to be an accountant, risk manager, financial analyst, or planner, it’s a good idea to look into these certifications.

There is a wide range of professional finance certifications available, and completing advanced studies can help you climb the career ladder, improve your employability, and get you on the way to earning a six-figure salary.

In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the most prestigious financial certificates, highlighting the advantages of gaining certification in finance. 

What Are Finance Certifications?

If you have ever sought assistance or advice from finance experts, you may have come across individuals with various letters after their names. These letters indicate that the financial adviser, accountant, or analyst has a certification in finance.

There are several different types of certification available, and it is possible to focus on niche areas and areas of special interest. Finance certifications demonstrate advanced skills and knowledge.

To gain financial or accounting certifications, individuals must complete a course, which usually requires undertaking assessments and sitting at least one exam. 

How To Gain Accounting and Finance Certifications

If you aspire to pursue a career in finance and want to reach the top, it’s natural to look for the best finance certifications in the US. To gain top accounting and finance certifications, you have to complete the following steps:

  1. Find a course or program approved by the CFP Board (Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc).
  2. Complete the program.
  3. Prepare for the CFP test: the CFP certification test is available during three sessions per year in March, July, and November. The test must be taken at an approved venue within the determined five-day exam window.
  4. Obtain a bachelor’s degree from a relevant college or school: you can apply for the CFP test before you graduate, but you must have completed your bachelors’ degree within a five-year time frame. 
  5. Undertake practical financial planning learning: to complete the program, you must show evidence of professional experience in approved financial planning exercises or apprenticeship experience. 
  6. Agree to ethical guidelines set out by the CFP Board and pass background checks. 

Types of Financial and Accounting Certifications

There are multiple financial and accounting certifications available. Here are some of the best certifications for finance:

CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

A CPA license is one of the most popular finance certifications. This is a widely-recognized qualification that demonstrates knowledge and expertise in accounting. This certificate is beneficial for individuals who want to work in corporate finance and tax consulting, as well as general accounting. 

The CPA certification is provided by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). CPAs are most helpful for customers and clients seeking advice about making investments, organizing accounts, and reducing their tax payments.

Key points:

  • Costs: around $3,000 (in many cases, certification fees are covered by the employer)
  • Duration: 2.5 - 5 years
  • Working hours: varies according to the course (typically around 150 hours of coursework)
  • Work experience: 1 year
  • Exam pass rate: around 50% 
  • Main focus: accounting and general finance

CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)

Chartered financial analysts have expertise in securities and financial investments. This certification is administered by the CFA Institute and is described as “the most respected and recognized investment management designation in the world.”

The program is rigorous and requires candidates to pass three levels, with the first level having very low pass rates.

Chartered financial analysts offer advice for investors and businesses looking to hire an investment manager. They can work in a wide range of settings, guiding individuals or entire company boards. 

Key points:

  • Cost: $2,540 - $5,040
  • Duration: 3 - 5 years
  • Structure: 3 levels
  • Work experience: 4 years
  • Study hours: 300 - 400 per exam, up to 1,200 in total
  • Focus: investment and portfolio management
  • Exam pass rate: depends on the level

CFP (Certified Financial Planner)

Certified financial planners are in demand. As a result, the Certified Financial Planner certification is considered one of the top finance certifications around.

This qualification covers a broad spectrum of topics and areas across the field of finance. It allows financial experts to provide tailored advice for clients based on their investment history, portfolio, and objectives. 

CFP certification covers two levels and has a relatively good pass rate. CFP accountants are all but guaranteed to have an extensive knowledge base about finances.

Key points:

  • Cost: starts at $2,500
  • Duration: 4 years
  • Structure: 2 levels
  • Work experience: 3 years
  • Study period: varies 
  • Pass rate: 60 - 70%
  • Focus: financial planning, investment management, retail and wealth management

FRM (Financial Risk Manager)

Financial risk managers specialize in risk management, and they usually work for financial organizations, such as banks. This is a more specific, niche qualification designed for those who want to focus on risk analysis and managing risks to benefit clients. 

The FRM certification is administered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP) and covers two levels. It’s one of the most affordable certifications on offer.

Key points:

  • Cost: $1,500
  • Focus: risk analysis and management
  • Duration: 1 year
  • Study time: approximately 200 - 300 hours per exam
  • Work experience: 2 years
  • Pass rate: 40% - 50%

CMA (Chartered Management Accountant)

Chartered management accountants usually work in corporate settings, and they have business clients rather than offering services for individuals. This certification demonstrates general accounting and management skills. CMA’s provide tailored advice and draw up strategic plans to aid financial decision-making. 

The CMA test is regulated by the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), and it covers two levels. 

Key points:

  • Cost: $345 per part for students and $460 per part for professional members, plus an entrance fee of $280 for professional members and $210 for students and academics (new prices introduced in March 2022)
  • Structure: 2 parts
  • Focus: corporate finance, accounting, financial planning, and strategy-making
  • Work experience: 2 years (continuous)
  • Pass rate: around 50%

CAIA (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst)

If you are interested in hedge funds, private equity, risk management, and real assets, this could be the ideal finance certification program. This two-level program is run by the CAIA Association.

Chartered alternative investment analysts provide advice for clients interested in alternative investments and diversifying their portfolios.

If you wish to pursue a career in the asset management industry or want to focus on hedge funds, this certificate will help you advance your career. 

Key points:

  • Cost: around $3,000
  • Structure: 2 levels
  • Pass rate: 60% - 70%
  • Focus: alternative investments, hedge funds, real assets, asset, and portfolio management
  • Duration: 1 - 2 years
  • Work experience: 1 year

ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant Certification)

The ChFC certificate is similar to the CFP certification, but it enables individuals to pursue specialist interests. The ChFC is not as well-known as the CFP, but it is a distinguished program covering a broad spectrum of areas within finance.

The CFP covers financial planning more generally than the ChFC, which offers the ability to find a niche, such as financial planning for clients going through a divorce or financial services for small businesses and start-ups, for example. 

ChFC certification is administered by the American College of Financial Services. 

Key points:

  • Cost: $2,260 - $5,670 (three vs eight-course package)
  • Format: online
  • Duration: less than a year
  • Focus: financial planning, income tax strategies, retirement and estate planning
  • Pass rate: around 60%

FMVA (Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst)

The FMVA certification is very popular these days. This program is designed for those who wish to pursue a career in corporate finance and focuses on creating models, analyzing sensitivities, and utilizing sophisticated valuation techniques.

The FMVA certificate is a single-level course administered by the CFI (Corporate Finance Institute). 

Key points:

  • Cost: starts at $500
  • Structure: 1 level
  • Duration: less than a year
  • Study hours: 125 - 200
  • Pass rate: around 70%
  • Work experience: none required

CGFM (Chartered Government Finance Manager)

The CGFM certification covers state and federal government finance certifications and is designed for individuals who want to work in financial risk analysis or management within government departments and enterprises.

The program covers auditing, accounting, financial planning, analysis, and internal reporting. 

Individuals who wish to gain CFGM certification must also agree to the AGA’s (Association of Government Accountants) Code of Ethics. 

Key points:

  • Cost: $125 per exam (there are three exams) plus an application fee of $70 for AGA members and $99 for non-members
  • Focus: government finance, reporting, accounting, and financial management
  • Requirements: 80 hours of continued professional education (CPE) every two years

What Are S6 and S63 Certifications?

S6 and S63 certifications, also known as Series 6 and 63 licenses, are the most common security licenses issued by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The S6 license, the Limited-Investment Securities License, covers securities sold as a single entity.

Examples include mutual funds and indexed life insurance. The S6 license is required for all insurance sales professionals working in the US who sell these types of securities.

The S63 is an administrative license regulated by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). The license relates to securities laws that govern the sale of securities in each state.

Professionals who wish to sell variable insurance and securities will need both S6 and S63 certifications.  

Is the CFA Harder Than the CPA?

The CFA and the CPA are two of the most recognized and well-respected professional finance certifications. Certificate holders have expertise and training, which will stand them in good stead to secure sought-after jobs.

If you are thinking about pursuing a career in finance and you’re unsure which certification to choose, you may be wondering if the CFA is more challenging than the CPA program. 

The pass rates for the CFA and CPA indicate that CFA certification is indeed harder to obtain. The figures are between 40% and 60% for CPA and as low as around 20% for the first level of CFA.

The CFA has a more complex structure, which involves passing three levels, and the exams require candidates to learn new material and topics, which means that study time for exams is longer.

The AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) recommends 300-400 hours of study in total for CPA certification, while the recommended study time for the CFA is 300-400 hours per exam. The proportion of applicants who become chartered CPAs is higher than the percentage qualifying for a CFA certification. 

Which Finance Certification Is the Best for Me?

It is difficult to answer this question because each certification has pros and cons, and some programs will be better suited to certain individuals than others. When deciding which is the best certification in finance, it is essential to consider the following factors:

  • Your career aims and objectives
  • Your interests within the field of finance
  • Study time available and course duration
  • Certification fees
  • Your level of education and experience
  • The prestige of the certification

Summary

Finance certifications demonstrate advanced learning, expertise, and knowledge in finance and accounting. There are several different types of certification available, and some are more niche than others.

All certifications require a lot of work, but gaining a certification in finance improves career prospects, earning potential, and employability.

FAQ

Which finance certification is best?

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Several finance certifications are available, and some may be better suited to certain individuals than others. Certifications, including the CPA, CFA, CFP,  and the FRM, are widely regarded as gold-standard certifications, which enhance employability and career prospects.

If you have a special interest, or you wish to focus on a niche subject, such as hedge funds, for example, it’s best to look for certifications, which will allow you to develop your skills and understanding in key areas. In this case, the CAIA program may be the best option. 

What certifications are in demand for finance?

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The top finance certifications include the CPA, CFA, CFP, ChFC, FRM, and CAIA.

What is the easiest finance certification to get?

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No finance certification is easy to get, and every course requires dedication, hard work, and many hours of study. The most accessible certifications include the ChFC, the CMA, and the CFP.

Is the CFP exam hard?

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The CFP exam is not straightforward, and candidates are advised to spend at least 250 hours preparing for the test. The pass rate is between 60% and 70%, which is relatively high compared to other finance certifications, especially the CFA. 

About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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